I read the story of Abram this morning, from his first revelation from God (Genesis 12) through his name change to Abraham to the birth of his son Isaac (Genesis 21). I also flicked through a few of the surrounding stories.
What I noticed was this: Noah had direct revelation from God. Abram did too, but this was over 300 years later. The bible does not record any direct revelation from God between the two.
If you look at the biblical history stories later on in the bible, you will notice that the people are quick to turn their backs on God, be deceived, be confused and follow false religions (or perversions of the real one) mere moments after the revelation has been received. Just look at what happened when Moses went up a mountain for a few days - he comes back and the whole nation are worshipping a golden calf! If that's how far people stray in a few days, how far must folk have strayed in 300 years? How confused must the peoples' belief systems have got?
A few days ago I blogged about the character of the Most High God. It seems to me that as Abram went on his travels he encountered folk like Melchizidek, a priest of the 'Most High God' (Genesis 14) and others who worshiped 'Jehovah' and still others who worshiped 'El-Shaddai' and so on - I wonder if these were perceived by the Canaanites as being distinct gods?
That being the case, Abram had a great revelation - that the 'Most High God' and 'Jehovah' were one and the same (Gen 14v22) and further, God directly revealed to him that He was also 'El-Shaddai' (Gen 17v1).
It is hard to think back to Abram's day. He did not have any of the bible that we have, he did not have the same theology that we have, he saw the world in a totally different way to how we perceive it. But he heard the call of God and followed.
I believe that (for lack of a better term) the Christian 'religion' has evolved over the years. It more-or-less started with Abram and the few things he knew about the God who called him. Over the years it has grown as different beliefs have been added on - some by revelation, some by deduction, some through experience and so on. Occasionally some of these deductions have been wrong and experiences have been misinterpreted, these mistakes have often been corrected by new revelations and prophecies. However, I expect some errors are still in the mix today. While we worship the same God as Abram, we have a totally different understanding of Him - hopefully this is a more mature understanding in many ways, although that sometimes doesn't seem to be the case.
What is my point here? That belief is a dynamic thing - it will change with new revelation, deduction and experience. We will see further than those who went before us, because we do stand on the shoulders of giants (as it were). That doesn't mean our forefathers were wrong, only that they saw things differently.
God has revealed himself to us in discrete chunks. I believe that revelation must be ongoing, because there is so much more to learn!
In some ways its kind of like a jigsaw - Abram put the first few pieces together. Moses assembled a few as well, and so on. By the time of Jesus there were many sizable chunks of the picture already assembled. The cross was the missing piece which united all these assembled chunks together. Once the cross was in place the picture could mostly be seen. But I don't think the jigsaw is finished yet - there are still pieces to be added.
We still need more revelation today.